Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cheese brain

A friend was incredibly generous and gave me a bag full of Zingerman's delicacies for the minimal task of watering her indoor plants every couple of weeks while she was away this summer. There were chocolates, a lovely little coconut lime cake and a mysterious package labeled "Langres." Wikipedia informs me that this is "a soft, pungent cow's milk cheese that is known for its rind, which is washed with champagne."
But I confess, this cheese scared me just a little. It reminded me of brain coral which, the few times I've gone snorkeling, freaked me out. The smell was powerful, a big whiff of barnyard as soon as I opened the paper.

So I chickened out, wrapped it back up and called a friend to supply some culinary support. Ami was kind enough to stop by after work and cut into the oozing brain, er, cheese.
It was very ripe so we smeared on on baguette slices and topped it with this stuff:
pear mostarda, which frankly, is not my favorite cheese condiment. If I could have found the 1/3rd-of-the-price fig jam that I know is hiding somewhere in my kitchen, I would have gone for that. The pear mostarda is ok--thin slices of pear in a very lightly mustardy jam base--but the pear flavor is too washed out for me. I like really ripe flowery pear flavor that punches you in the face. I bought this stuff when the NYTimes raved about it back in 2005 and still have about half a jar left...but I did actually enjoy the stuff with the Langres. The cheese wasn't as intense as its smell implied, but it still needed some sort of sweet counterpart to balance the barnyard--pear mostarda, fig jam, fresh grapes, figs, pears or apples, something along those lines.

We drank a cool, dry rose with enough flavor to stand up to the cheese. This is my new favorite summer wine:
Bonny Doon's Vin Gris de Cigare, 2005, about $11. I drank it at a friend's house in July side by side with a decent rose from Provence and liked this one better. And I'm also charmed by a vineyard with a sense of humor. The Cigare refers to the spaceship pictured on the label above and there is a creepy alien face on the screw top. Yippie for decent screw top wines! One less piece of equipment to forget when I go on a picnic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This is what summer is supposed to taste like

It has been raining, and now it is getting hot, which means we are in for swamp weather. When the air is too thick to breathe, it is hard to contemplate eating. It is as though every breath of air makes me feel full, so I haven't been doing much meal preparation. But then I get the tummy grumble and realized that I do still have to feed myself.

This evening I looked around and spotted an eggplant hiding behind some peaches in the fruit bowl. I'll confess--this eggplant was a little past its prime due to its skill at hide and seek. But despite its age and less than totally firm flesh, cubing it and roasting it in a hot oven for half an hour made it taste terrific! There was none of that fussy salting and draining that usually bugs the crap out of me when it comes to cooking eggplant yet there was not a trace of bitterness.

If I didn't have a particular gardening curse, I'd be able to enjoy the salad I made for dinner a lot more often. Unlike everyone else in the universe, I can't grow mint well. I have a field of basil and enough pesto already in the freezer to last me until next summer, but my mint plant remains stunted and stingy. Sarah, who gave me the plant, can actually grow mint without soil! She weeds it out of her garden, throws it on some gravel that is underneath a wooden walkway to her house, and a week later she goes back and finds it has replanted itself and is thriving! But I plant it with plenty of light in decent soil (ok so I forgot to add compost this year...) and it just sits there.

Because my mint supply was so minimal I halved the following recipe; this salad is just what I think summer is supposed to taste like--luscious eggplant cubes, crisp red pepper, fantastic just-off-the-vine tomatoes, with enough feta in the lemony dressing to replace all those salts I've been sweating out today. I tossed the eggplant in while it was still warm so there was a nice temperature contrast. The only thing that would have made my light meal better would have been a big glass of cool, dry rose to wash it down, but I have to head out to a meeting at my kid's preschool tonight and I'm guessing wine on the breath might tag me as the sloth mom that I I'll hope that Brian leaves a little of the salad for me to have as a snack with wine when I get back.

Eggplant Salad With Peppers, Mint and Caper-Feta Vinaigrette
from the New York Times, August 15, 2007

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 pounds eggplant (any kind, or a mixture), trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 2/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 pound mixed bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

2. Toss eggplant with 1/3 cup vinaigrette, reserving the rest. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden around edges, about 30 minutes. Let eggplant cool somewhat. (It can be warm but not hot enough to melt feta or wilt mint.)

3. Whisk feta, garlic and capers into reserved vinaigrette. In a large bowl, combine eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and mint leaves. Toss with vinaigrette, and serve immediately or within several hours. (It holds up all day.) 4 to 6 servings.